It's Time for the American Public To Tune In Women's Basketball

IN discussing the gender-equity question that hovers over college sports these days, Richard Lapchick says history teaches an interesting lesson. The director of the Boston-based Center for the Study of Sport in Society cites what has happened with racial equity as an encouraging sign for cash-strapped athletic directors.

``There is a feeling that `the public,' that is, traditional white male sports fans, won't care to watch women's sports,'' Lapchick told The Sporting News. ``There was a time when there was a feeling that the same `public' wouldn't care to watch African-Americans play sports; or later that they wouldn't watch African-Americans coaching sports. Instead, it has created an entirely new fan base, while keeping the white male fan.''

Lapchick doesn't say it, but the crux of the matter is that spectators will look past personal biases and prejudices if the product is well presented, entertaining, and of high quality.

Certainly, some women's intercollegiate basketball programs seem to deliver on all three counts. The women's team at Southwest Missouri State, which made it to the Final Four in the 1992 national-championship tournament, was the attendance leader in women's hoops last season with an average of 7,421 spectators per game. Southwest's games are heavily promoted on local radio, and its road contests are televised.

The University of Iowa, fifth on the list last year, has now thrown down the gauntlet and engaged the Top 10 in the first National Women's Basketball Attendance Challenge to see which school can attract the biggest crowds. Besides Iowa and Southwest Missouri State, the other contenders are Ohio State, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, Stanford, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Texas Tech, and the University of Connecticut. The winner will keep a traveling trophy for the next year.

Early this month, Tennessee led the challenge standings with an average home attendance of 9,575. A crowd of 18,684 for one game earlier this season obviously helps.

US Cities Don't Knock Canadian Opportunity

THE time seems ripe for Canadian Football League expansion in the United States. Baltimore, distraught over not getting a National Football League expansion franchise for 1995, has a group bidding for CFL membership. And jilted NFL suitors in Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis might ``go Canadian.''

Sacramento, Calif., joined up last year, and Las Vegas comes aboard next season, with Baltimore and Orlando, Fla., awaiting a Feb. 15 decision on their status.

What might really spur US interest in the CFL would be if the league renamed itself - the North American Football League, perhaps. The identity issue has come up, says CFL Commissioner Larry Smith. Stay tuned.

One complication for American cities is finding stadiums that will accommodate the larger Canadian field: It's 110 yards long and 65 yards wide, with two 20-yard end zones. (US fields are 100 yards by about 53 yards, with 10-yard end zones.) In Orlando, a new CFL franchise would play in the Citrus Bowl, where end zones could be only 12 or 13 yards deep.

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